Steam frigate

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Russian steam corvette Vityaz
HMS Birkenhead was laid down as a steam frigate, but made redundant by screw-driven propulsion before her completion in 1845.

Steam frigates, also known as screw frigates, and the smaller steam corvettes and steam sloops were steam-powered warships. The first such ships were steam-powered versions of the traditional frigates, corvettes, and sloops.


The first vessel that can be considered a steam warship was the Demologos, which was launched in 1815 for the United States Navy.[1]

Paddle warships

From the early 1820s, the British Navy began building a number of small steam warships including the armed tugs HMS Comet and HMS Monkey, and by the 1830s the navies of America, Russia and France were experimenting with steam-powered warships.[2] This first generation of steam warships, termed 'paddle warships' (in the categories of frigate, sloop, gunvessel or other), used paddlewheels mounted on either the sides or in the center. The ships were equipped with large guns, generally mounted on one deck (although some larger paddle warships carried guns on two deck levels).[3] Paddlewheels were proven in a number of Admiralty trials to be less efficient than the propeller or 'screw', and more vulnerable to damage, and from the late 1840s onwards navies began to build screw-driven steam warships. Paddle frigates were used extensively during the Opium Wars, Mexican–American War, Crimean War and American Civil War, but by 1870 most had been scrapped or sold into civilian service.[4]

Screw driven warships

Screw warships more closely resembled the traditional sailing warship, and were built with steam engines and screw propeller for propulsion. The ships retained a full sail-plan however, due less to conservatism than to lack of coaling supplies around the globe, the last being an especially important consideration for frigates, which often operated independently on the far side of the world. These 'screw frigates', built first of wood and later of iron, continued to perform the traditional role of the frigate until late in the 19th century. France and the United Kingdom were the only two countries to develop fleets of wooden steam screw battleships, and both navies built numbers of screw frigates.

From 1859, armour was added to ships based on existing frigate and ship of the line designs. The additional weight of the armour on these first ironclad warships meant that they could have only one gun deck, and they were technically frigates, even though they were more powerful than existing ships-of-the-line and occupied the same strategic role. The phrase 'armoured frigate' remained in use for some time to denote a sail-equipped, broadside-firing type of ironclad. For a time, they were the most powerful type of vessel afloat.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the term 'frigate' fell out of use. Armoured vessels were designated as either 'battleships' or 'armoured cruisers', while unarmoured vessels including frigates and sloops were classified as 'unprotected cruisers'.


The only surviving screw frigate is the Danish Jylland.

The steam sloop HMS Gannet (1878) spent many years as a training ship and is now preserved at Plymouth.

The Dutch steam frigate HNLMS Bonaire is currently undergoing restoration as a museum ship.

ARA Uruguay of the Argentinian navy is the last surviving steam and sail corvette.

See also


  1. ^ Hovgaard, William (January 1971). Modern History of Warships: Comprising a Discussion of Present Standpoint and Recent War Experiences for the Use of Students of Naval Construction, Naval Constructors, Naval Officers and Others Interested in Naval Matters. Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 9780851770406.
  2. ^ Dumpleton, Bernard (2002). Story of the Paddle Steamer. Intellect Books. ISBN 9781841508016.
  3. ^ Winfield, Rif (2014-04-30). British Warships in the Age of Sail 1817-1863: Design, Construction, Careers and Fates. Seaforth Publishing. ISBN 9781473849624.
  4. ^ Tucker, Spencer C. (2010-12-09). The Civil War Naval Encyclopedia [2 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781598843392.
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